Nnamdi Asomugha arguably is the best cornerback in the game, but most teams would be wise not to break the bank for his services when he hits the open market.
Not that Asomugha isn't worthy of commanding top dollar as a shutdown corner, but there are several factors that should create pause before someone snatches up the perceived crown jewel of the free-agent class.
Recent history has proven that championship teams don't need the presence of a Pro Bowl corner. While the Green Bay Packers were the exception in their journey to the Lombardi Trophy last season, recent Super Bowl winners haven't relied on the play of a star cornerback.
Part of that can be attributed to the increase in zone-based coverage like the Tampa 2 and various zone-blitz schemes. Asomugha would help teams wanting to get after the quarterback with pressure and leaving their cornerbacks in isolated matchups, but it isn't a requirement to have great one-on-one corners to thrive within the increasingly popular zone systems in the league.
There's also the question about Asomugha's impact on a defense. No one denies his skills or ability to blanket one half of the field, yet one wonders if he truly makes his unit better. Even with Asomugha's three consecutive Pro Bowl nods from 2008 to 2010 and heading a pass defense that ranked in the top 10 each of those seasons, the Oakland Raiders didn't finish in the top 10 in total defense during that span.
Asomugha has 11 career picks, with just two coming during the past three seasons, to go with two forced fumbles. Considering he has faced just 98 pass attempts since 2008, respect for his game limits the number of chances to create turnovers.
Still, the lack of turnovers goes beyond Asomugha's fear factor. The fact that he has primarily played right corner also has limited the amount of pass attempts he has faced. The right side is considered the weaker of the two cornerback spots because most quarterbacks are right-handed and the majority of throws head in that direction -- and challenging the left corner.
Unlike some elite cornerbacks who shadow the opponent's top receiver, Asomugha has typically stayed on his assigned side. While he had success moving around more in 2010, teams have been able to find their No. 1 receiver by moving him away from Asomugha when they face the Raiders.
In comparing his output to other elite corners, Asomugha falls well short in the turnover category. Champ Bailey (48 interceptions and six forced fumbles), Charles Woodson (47 interceptions and 22 forced fumbles) and Asante Samuel (42 interceptions and five forced fumbles) are not only excellent cover guys, but they have shown a consistent ability to get their hands on the ball.
Darrelle Revis, the cornerback often touted as the game's best, has created more total turnovers (14 interceptions and two forced fumbles) in four fewer seasons than Asomugha's 13.
Given the impact of turnovers, teams should seriously investigate if Asomugha can do enough to justify the hefty commitment an interested team like the Houston Texans would have to make. The same goes for potential suitors in the Detriot Lions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys.
Teams are reluctant to commit big money to aging players, and Asomugha is 30, so that's a concern. He could be nearing the end of his athletic prime, and his skills will start to diminish during the middle of his contract. That's an even greater possibility when you consider how he uses his 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame to maul receivers in bump-and-run coverage. That physical style of play could takes a toll over an extended career and diminish his skills quicker.
Asomugha is believed to be the final piece to a championship puzzle, but one wonders if his age and lack of production will produce a case of buyer's remorse in a few years for the team that gives him a monster contract.